Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chicago: My Kind of Town?

By Steve Tiszenkel

You'll excuse me if I haven't been thinking much about Queens lately. See, I've been thinking about leaving. No, not to Manhattan or Brooklyn or so-uncool-it's-cool Staten Island nor even the cutting-edge South Bronx. True, I've been contemplating a move west—but I was thinking more like 800 miles west. My wife and I could be packing up and heading to Chicago.

This didn't just come out of nowhere. It would be a move of circumstance, a reaction to something that's suddenly changed in our lives. The details aren't really important, but moving to Chicago would make things easier in a few important ways. Still, a move is technically optional, so I've been spending much of my free time doing repeated cost-benefit analysis.

Oh, stop, you New York snobs—I already know what you're thinking. Seriously, Chicago? Isn't that in one of those square states? Didn't it burn down because of some cow, and then the corrupt police bashed all those hippies over the head? You can put your preconceived notions to rest right now.

Chicago is an enormous metropolis that recently had a starring role as Gotham City in a little movie you and 40 million of your closest friends might have seen. As the Second City, it is indeed second to New York in many ways—though not in population; Los Angeles passed it back in 1990. It's got the second-best art museum, the second-best opera, the second-best symphony. It's No. 2 in finance, in theater and in food. None of this is a knock on the city—second place isn't too shabby, as the French Olympic swim team might grudgingly admit.

But believe it or not, there are things Chicago does better than New York. It invented the skyscraper, and its skyline, though more compact than New York's, is sleeker, prettier and taller. New York may be a city of islands, but continental Chicago, on the shores of enormous, beautiful Lake Michigan and straddling the Chicago River, is oriented toward the water in a way that New York simply isn't. And while New York is a city where urban improvements seem to just sort of happen—or not, as evidenced by the repeated hiccups at Ground Zero—Chicago's controversial-but-effective Mayor-for-Life Richard M. Daley has used his considerable power to push an aggressive development agenda that's seen his city become an international model for modern architecture, public spaces and public art.

But when I thought about what I personally liked best about Chicago, to my surprise, what I ended up with were many of the same things I like best about Queens. There's an energy that Chicago and Queens share that Manhattan in 2008 doesn't have, a palpable sense of change, that things are happening. With the gentrification of nearly all of Manhattan complete, there's really nowhere to go but down. In low-rise Queens, the sky's the limit. Long-forgotten neighborhoods are reaching their potential in both places. Nobody quite knows what Queens will look like 10 years from now, and you can say the same of Chicago. Manhattan? I've got a pretty good idea.

Chicago is slower-paced and more personal, both qualities it shares with Queens. Outside of its bustling downtown, its blocks of residences broken up with the occasional commercial strip have much more in common with Queens than they do with, say, the West Village. Even the red-brick-and-ornate-entryway architecture is similar. I remember the very first time I ever wandered around Forest Hills, I thought, Hey, this looks like Chicago.

My wife wouldn't cry if we were gone tomorrow. She's never been a huge fan of New York. She ended up here by accident, met me and found herself stuck. She thinks it's too mean, too fast, too ruthless. Chicago, meanwhile, is her kind of town. The other day, she told me that if we do leave, she wouldn't miss Manhattan at all. She wouldn't feel bad about missing out on Central Park or Union Square or any of the great New York things her hypothetical new home wouldn't be able to provide. The only reason she hesitates to go, she said, is Forest Hills.

The writer, Steve Tiszenkel is the host of the Website, Queens Central. Log on to to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After you move, write back when it's January, it's 20 below 0 for the 13th consecutive day and you are waist high in snow and see if you still like it better than New York.